It is not right that a little girl dies when she is only six years old. It is not fair that a family should lose two children. These things are not supposed to happen. We are all shocked by Laine’s death. We may be angry that she is not with us any more. We might be scared, scared of life without Laine, or scared because we’re starting to see that someday, we hope a very long time from now, we will die too. And we are so very, very sad. It’s a different kind of sadness than we may be used to feeling, because our hearts are broken. We lost so much when Laine died.
Laine loved Phillips Brooks School. She loved her teachers, she loved her friends, she loved going to school with her big brother Mathew. So Laine’s mom Anna was surprised when she noticed Laine standing in the hallway outside of Mrs Tully’s room, waiting for her classmates to get there before she went inside. Anna asked Laine about it, and she said, “I can’t open the door. It’s too heavy.” (Laine could be a bit of a drama queen.) Anna was very wise. She said, “You know, Laine, you are small for your age, and you probably always will be small. You can’t let your size be a reason for other people to do things for you that you can learn to do for yourself.” So Anna and Laine went up to school at a time no one else was around, and they practiced opening that door, how to turn the knob and pull with all of Laine’s weight at just the right time, until Laine could open the door by herself. And Laine learned, with her mom’s help, that her size did not stop her from doing what she wanted to do.
That was Laine for you. She had more personality per unit of weight than anyone I’ve ever known. Every Sunday morning after our church service ended, Laine and Mathew and their dad Mathai stopped to shake my hand. Laine was very grown up about it. I would crouch down to her level, and she’d reach up and say, with a serious voice and a serious face, “Good morning, Reverend Gia.” I could always tell she was waiting for me to say, “Good morning, Laine. How are you today?” so she could start bouncing again. She couldn’t hold it in. It always made me laugh. That was Laine for you. She was an exceptionally loving little girl; when someone new joined her class at school, Laine made friends with them right away. She went up to total strangers in Starbucks and the supermarket and left them laughing and smiling. Laine had always been like that, even when she was a tiny baby and she used to sleep cuddled up to her sister Mia. Even as a tiny baby, even when she was asleep, Laine couldn’t help loving people.
Laine had so much love to share because all of us loved her so well. She had loving, wise, patient parents in Mathai and Anna. She had an extraordinary big brother in Mathew. A couple of weeks ago, he spent an entire day teaching Laine to ski. He got frustrated only once; he skied down to the bottom of the hill, said, “I’m tired of this,” tried to make a snow angel––and then went right back up to teach Laine again. She had grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins who loved her in all kinds of ways, some from far away and some close to home. She had friends at St Bede’s who loved her, friends and teachers at Phillips Brooks who loved her, her nanny Vijay who loved her. Laine received so much love that she couldn’t help sharing it with everyone she met.
And in that way, Laine showed us what God is like. The reading we just heard, the one that Mathew did for us, tells us that God has given us love, because God is love. God loves because that is what and who God is. Laine couldn’t help loving, and God can’t help loving. God loves each one of us, just because God made us. And God calls each one of us God’s own beloved child.
Christians also understand that God does not love us from far away. God loves us so much that God became a human being like us: Jesus, who lived on earth and had friends and laughed and played and stubbed his toe and lived a life just like our lives. God became one of us in Jesus so that God could experience everything we do in this life, our greatest joys and happiness and our suffering, even our death. And that means that God is feeling what we are feeling. God is hurting. God is scared. God is angry. God is so very, very sad. And when Laine died, God’s heart was the first one of all our hearts to break.
The story of God becoming one of us does not end with Jesus hurting and dying on the cross. Because when Jesus’ friends went to visit his grave on Easter morning, they found that he was not there. He had risen. Even though he was dead, God gave him new life. It was a different kind of life, because he wasn’t here on earth any more; it was a life very close to God. And God’s promise in Jesus is that someday, Laine and Mia and all of us will have new life, just like Jesus did. We won’t be here on earth any more; we will be very close to God. We will see Laine there, and Mia, and all the people we love who have died. And that lets us be hopeful, even though our hearts are broken. Laine is living a new life very close to God, and she is safe and happy and loved.
1 John 3:1-2, Luke 18:15-17
This homily owes many debts to the chapter “Clinical Pastoral Education” in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix and William Sloane Coffin’s sermon “Eulogy for Alex.”